Front-end innovation. Two words that have managers shaking in their boots. Mainly because front-end innovation requires brainstorming, which has both the potential to change the world and to end in disaster.

In the end it all comes down to structure. So how do you create an environment that’s creative enough to get the juices flowing, but structured enough so suggested ideas are usable? Using an idea management platform could be your answer

The Problem With Traditional Brainstorming

While great ideas have come from brainstorming sessions, the traditional meeting around a table on Wednesday afternoon has a few problems.

Firstly the structure of the meeting differs depending on who is attending. If a decidedly fastidious employee is attending, the meeting notes might show you the journey from the first notion to a full-fledged idea. Unfortunately, meeting notes are usually not that descriptive. This is a problem for several reasons. Ideas are difficult to replicate when you do not know the journey earlier successes took. This also means that any subsequent brainstorming process starts from scratch.

Secondly, traditional brainstorming has a very insular nature to it. Brainstorming is still a physical exercise, limiting it to the people present. This is a considerable challenge for companies whose offices are located in different cities and countries. While international brainstorming can take place through email and various chat-services, this quickly becomes cluttered and can become a distraction in itself.

Thirdly is the problem of broadness. To quote The Harvard Business Review:

“Imagine that we asked you to invent an idea for a new business in the next 20 minutes. The task is so broad and vague that you would probably think you couldn’t do it.”

Many brainstorming sessions start out similarly to this. you place people in a room and ask them to come up with ideas. Usually, there is no “warm-up” or intro, other than a quick brief on what specific challenge the meeting is about. This means that the first 30-something minutes of a session are usually useless, as people are getting their creative juices flowing and getting comfortable in the space.

A Structured Brainstorm is a Happy Brainstorm

*“When most people do brainstorming, they run all over the place and think outside the box. I think they should think inside the box, the right-sided box. *“Duke Professor Ralph Keeney

If the problems mentioned above are recognizable, then perhaps you should start to think inside the box. This should not be understood as an anti-creativity statement. Rather it is a plea for structured creativity, a sentence that might sound like a contradiction. A structured brainstorming session is merely a brainstorm with a framework and already know trajectory. If everyone involved knows that a suggestion has to have a specific number of features and upvotes from colleagues, then the process becomes much easier.

This type of framework is especially helpful when dealing with fuzzy front-end innovation, where the starting point is, well…. fuzzy.

The earlier you have structure in the search and selection phase, the faster your projects becomes un-fuzzy

fuzzy front end - line getting straigther over time

Structure Every Step of the Way

The problems mentioned, among many others, can take place in any of the five phases of brainstorming; Defining the problem, Stimulating Creativity, Ideation, Sharing and Critique, and Categorizing. To ensure you start every session fully prepared, follow the short guide below:

• Define Goals: Obviously, the main objectives of the session should be clearly stated and understood by every participant. Along with this, any pertinent background information should be made available, so participants can understand the context the problem exists in.

• Stimulate Creativity: This a fraught phase, where numerous people falter. As we all know the first idea mentioned in a brainstorming session, is usually not the best. This should be embraced and participants should be encouraged to continuously build upon suggested ideas.

• Ideation: To avoid social loafing, require participants to start the brainstorm by individually coming up with ideas. This should be restricted to a fixed amount of time, from 10 min. to several weeks, depending on the specific situation.

• Sharing and Critique: When every participant has been able to suggest their ideas, it’s time to allow participants to share. To avoid chaos, have administrators that can structure discussions and give every participant an opportunity to share.

• Categorizing: Properly categorizing ideas is important, so all the work done in the earlier phases isn’t wasted. To save time, consider incorporating this step earlier in the process, so your team can continuously categorize and organize your ideas.

Interested in more innovation-related reading material? Then check out “Stop Treating Innovation as a Meaningless Buzzword”. Or maybe “Elon Musk’s 5 Great Ideas” are more your thing?

Benefits To a Structured Brainstorm

  • Every step of the ideation process is recorded. This makes it easy to follow an idea from conception to actualization. Because of this, it also becomes easier to recreate earlier successes.
  • Using a platform also gives you an easy way to evaluate the various ideas suggested, and an organized overview of every idea.
  • An idea management platform makes it very easy for teams to collaborate across departments, offices and even countries.
  • Ideas and challenges can be organized in any way that suits your needs.